Unless you’ve been living under a rock, or are just getting your feet wet in the world of auto racing, the yearly Goodwood Festival of Speed was held this past weekend in West Sussex, England. A tradition which started in 1993, the iconic event serves as motor racing’s equivalent to the Detroit Auto Show; race cars from the past, present, and future – as well as a capped limit of 150,000 fans – all cram into the grounds of Goodwood House for what’s essentially a pop-up encyclopedia of where auto racing has been, and where it’s going. Though the hill climb at the center of the festivities is little more than a cozy one minute stretch of asphalt sporting a few blind corners, the overall atmosphere and sheer size of the displays turns the event into the pinnacle of race car exhibitions. It’s certainly a bucket list item for those living within close proximity to West Sussex, and in recent years the popularity of Goodwood has skyrocketed thanks to event organizers streaming the event live on YouTube for outsiders to take part in.
To capitalize on the audience of 150,000 hardcore auto racing fans, many major developers had their own respective booths configured to show off this fall’s upcoming simulators to their core audience. Our friends over at Slightly Mad Studios were able to partner up with Bentley’s factory GT3 team and place a top of the line sim rig next to the Continental GT3 car, encouraging fans to have a go at the yet-to-be-released Project CARS 2 on the Brands Hatch GP circuit in what was more or less the best setup money can currently buy. We’re talking a proper Vesaro rig with a Direct Drive wheel, and of course a virtual reality headset.
One PRC ground reporter – who’s also a talented sim racer in his own right – was in attendance at Goodwood this year and was actually able to try a few laps on the rig (pictured above, though it’s not him driving), which was a monumental step up compared to what he races on at home. Unfortunately, his impressions from the experience of racing on a setup that featured top of the line everything were a mixed bag, and it does not bode well for those wanting to splurge money on sim racing peripheral upgrades, or even improving a single aspect of their setup – most notably the purchase of a virtual reality headset. In fact, his time with the Project CARS 2 uberseat only served to perpetuate our notion here at PRC that virtual reality headsets are a passing fad, and that it’s completely understandable for some developers to be completely uninterested in supporting the various high definition nerd goggles available on the market.
The choice quote I received from our ground reporter after his session was incredibly blunt; “virtual reality is a joke.” That’s how the conversation began, with him elaborating further “it was blurry and disorienting as fuck, with no peripheral vision either. It was like I was looking through binoculars with these giant black borders.”
And though they aggressively beg developers to add VR functionality across every modern game under the sun – especially racing simulators, where the technology is a natural fit – it’s also why developers like Codemasters are still generally hesitant to bother with nerd goggles despite scores of fans drumming up bullshit hashtags such as #noVRnoBuy. As Shaun Cole of The SimPit so expertly described these headsets many months ago, it’s a good experience for some who really get into it and can look past the flaws, but virtual reality headsets as a whole aren’t a good shared experience. For every person who turns a few laps in Assetto Corsa and is promptly blown away by how in-touch with the car they feel – promptly rushing out to buy a pricey wheel despite little to no sim racing experience – there are three or even five people wondering what the fuck all the hype is about, as our PRC ground reporter discovered first hand. It’s blurry, disorienting, and feels like you’re driving while wearing a shitty set of dollar store toy binoculars. Some developers can’t be bothered with implementing functionality for hardware they themselves personally don’t enjoy, and believe to be massively overrated.
It’s also got me wondering just how many users praising VR are genuine individuals, and not just paid shills told to flood various message boards in a quest to get more and more teams to purchase development kits/licenses, which in the end results in Samsung and Oculus turning a better profit. As a gamer I’ve never seen reception to any gaming product so inconsistent and contradictory; usually if a product is genuinely, objectively good, there are little to no negative remarks about the game or piece of hardware anywhere.
For example, when Assetto Corsa first came out in the fall of 2013, it was unanimous that the vehicle handling was leaps and bounds ahead of anything on the market – I don’t recall any notable negative feedback; the game instead shot to the top of Steam and threw more money at Kunos than they knew what to do with. Yet despite VR goggles receiving the same kinds of glowing reviews from portions of the gaming community in a manner similar to Assetto Corsa – deeming it to be the next revolution in gaming – there’s also been an equally vocal portion like our ground reporter from day one who were left utterly perplexed by the experience.
So how in the world are some people calling this technology game-changing when many others are coming forward to say it’s downright brutal? Again, my hypothesis is paid shills, mixed with a pinch of post-purchase rationalization – early VR adopters realizing the technology hasn’t lived up to expectations, yet convincing themselves that the purchase was worth it to feel better about the enormous amount of money they’d spent on nerd goggles plus the PC upgrades to run it.